Allen Ginsberg Reads Kaddish A 20th Centutry American Ecstatic Narrative Poem Atlantic Records Verbum Series (1966) Front Cover shot by Richard Avedon Back cover is some of Ginsberg’s handwritten manuscript of “Kaddish” and features a photograph of the poet with his mother at the New York World’s Fair in 1939. Two-page statement by Ginsberg entitled: “How Kaddish Happened” printed inside gatefold sleeve. Ginsberg wrote the poem about his mother Naomi after her death in 1956, who struggled with mental problems throughout her life. Naomi suffered many psychotic episodes both before Allen was born and while he was growing up. She went in and out of mental hospitals and was treated with medication, insulin shock therapy, and electroshock therapy. She died in an asylum in 1956.
The title Kaddish refers to the mourning prayer or blessing in Judaism. This long poem was Ginsberg’s attempt to mourn his mother, Naomi, but also reflects his sense of loss at his estrangement from his born religion. The traditional Kaddish contains no references to death, whereas Ginsberg’s poem is riddled with thoughts and questionings of death. After her death, a rabbi would not allow the traditional Kaddish to be read with Ginsberg’s Christian and Atheist friends, so he rebelled and wrote a Kaddish of his own. Ginsberg began writing the poem in the Beat Hotel in Paris in December 1957 and completed it in New York in 1959.
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